What is Pre-Exhausting Training?


What is Pre-Exhausting Training?

Pre-exhaustion is the practice of performing an isolation (single-joint) exercise before moving on to a compound lift (multi-join exercise) that targets the same muscle group.

Step 1: Perform an isolation movement for the desired muscle group

Step 2: Immediately  move on to a compound movement that incorporates the same muscle

This is considered  1 pre exhaust set. Once you’ve completed one set, take a minute to rest before performing the second set.

pre exhaust sets

pre exhaust sets

Generally speaking you want to minimize rest between your isolation and compound movement as much as possible (the best option is if there is no rest interval between the isolation movement and the compound movement), but keeping the transition to 10-15 seconds or less is a pretty safe bet. Stick to higher reps on the isolation movement (e.g. 10-12) and keep the reps slightly lower on the compound (e.g. 8-10).

The goal of pre-exhaustion is to allow an isolation lift to pre-fatigue a muscle, so that when you perform a compound lift, that muscle will have to work harder. It is common, but not necessary, to use pre-exhaustion in combination with a superset.

An example of pre-exhaust set:  Before hitting your bench presses (compound exercise), a pre-exhaust exercise would be the flat bench dumbbell flys (or even the cable crossover or pec-deck machine).

During the flys only the pectorals are involved in performing the movement. When the chest is fatigued, you move to the bench press, where the pecs gain assistance from the shoulders and triceps. So although your pecs are fatigued, your deltoids and triceps are fresh so you can further blast your pecs by doing a set of bench presses immediately after the pec-deck or flyes.

Not only can pre exhaust training techniques create a desirable shocking effect to the target muscle group but they can also help you plateaus in your training schedule like never before.

Pre exhaust training will push you to the limits and for that reason should be used by those considered advanced only. Novice weightlifters should steer well clear of such a technique as it has the potential to overload your target muscles, resulting rapidly in overtraining and enhancing the likelihood of injury.

Here are some examples of pre-exhaustion for several major muscle groups:

  • Quads – Leg extensions (isolation exercise) followed by squats (compound exercise).
  • Hamstrings – Leg curls (isolation exercise) followed by Romanian deadlifts (compound exercise).
  • Chest – Dumbbell flyes (isolation exercise) followed by bench press (compound exercise).
  • Shoulders – Side lateral raise (isolation exercise) followed by military press (compound exercise).
  • Back – Straight arm lat pull down (isolation exercise) followed by pull ups (compound exercise).
  • Triceps – Skullcrushers (isolation exercise) followed by close-grip bench press (compound exercise).

Here’s an example of a pre-exhaust routine for the chest using two progressions in a “super set” fashion.

Exercise 1 – Cable crossovers pre-exhausted with flat bench barbell press

Isolation exercise 1: Cable crossovers 3 x 12 repetitions

Once completed, immediately perform:

Compound exercise 1: Flat bench barbell press 3 x 8 to 12 repetitions

Exercise 2 – Incline bench dumbbell fly pre-exhaust with incline barbell press

Isolation exercise 1: Incline dumbbell fly 3 x 12 repetitions

Once completed, immediately perform:

Compound exercise 1: Incline barbell bench press 3 x 8 to 12 repetitions


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